Plan Your Visit
(607) 538-9323

Our Email Address

Hay, You!

In the shows about Alaska and the people who live there, winter is always on their minds. Throughout the spring, summer, and autumn all that the people talk about is having enough food for the long winter months. Living in central New York in the Catskill Mountains, I can actually relate to these individuals and the struggle to have enough food. Maybe not so much for ourselves, but definitely for our animals.

For us, the ability to make hay is one of the driving forces behind farming. If there is not enough hay for the winter, then your animals can lose weight, lose productivity, not breed back, and in the worst-case scenario, die. With so much at stake, it is crucial to have our barn filled with the precious food source of hay.

So, what is hay?

Hay is grasses, legumes, and other plant matter that is cut, dried and either stored loose or baled into tight bundles. It is given to animals to eat during the year when fresh forage is not available.

It is easy to see how important it is to make sure enough hay is produced.

How do you make hay?

This is a tricky question, because it depends on the condition of the field that would be utilized. If the field is full of stemmy weeds, like milkweed, goldenrod, thistle, burdock, etc. then it will need the pH balance checked and preferably reseeded with good quality grasses and legumes along with fertilizer.

It can take years to restore, as we have personally found with our local fields. The saying is true; one year seeds is five years weeds.

We have been trying to turn around some of the neighboring pastures into hay fields. With a lot of brush hogging, lime spreading, fertilizing and intensive grazing from our sheep, we are starting to see some improvement.

With an already established hay field with nutritious plant material, the process is less extreme, but just as labor intensive.

First, it is the groundwork, fertilizer. Fertilizing will give the grasses and legumes the nutrition it needs to be the most valuable to the animals. We use our livestock’s manure. The multiple varieties of animals that we have on the farm makes the fertilizer more nourishing to the land.

Next is to make sure the plants are at optimum nutritional value. Just because the field has tall grass does not mean that it will be the most nutritional balanced. The more forage there is, the less palatable it will be to the animals as well.

Cutting at the perfect time between highest palatability and nutrition depends on the forage itself. For first cutting, it is right when the grass start to develop a seed head. Second cutting is usually six weeks after. If you are lucky, in six weeks a third cutting may be ready.

Then, it is all on Mother Nature. You need a good stretch of clear weather with little to no rain and lots of sunshine. Farming and weather go hand in hand. You plan for outside work on nice days and inside work on inclement weather days, one thing is always constant, there is work.

Once the weather cooperates, the field will be cut with a mower. Not your typical lawn mower, but a hay mower. A hay mower cuts the grass low to the ground and keeps the grass blades intact. This will make it easier for the baler to pick up the vegetation.

The next step is to get the hay dried. To help speed up the process, a tedder can be used. It fluffs up the hay so the sun can dry the forage more efficiently.

Once the hay is dry (about 15% moisture), it is raked into a windrow. A windrow is just the name of the long lines of piled up hay. These rows make it easier for the baler to pick up the hay and compress it together.

We use two types of balers. One is a round baler and the other is a square baler. We round bale our first cutting and square bale our second and third cutting. The round bales are for the horses, as they are first cutting and the nicer second and third cutting hay are square baled for the sheep.

If the weather will hold out and be nice for several days in a row, we like to utilize our horses with making the hay. My husband has almost double the hay making equipment, as we have one set for the horses to pull, and a set for the tractors. The tractors are faster, but the calming effect of the horses pulling the equipment at a nice steady pace cannot be replicated. This is how people have been using animals and livestock for centuries. Animals were their way of life, and we are happy to continue with the practical traditions of sustainable farming.

In a way, the horses are making their own fuel. No fossils fuels are needed when we use our horses. It is not only “green” but also satisfying that they are earning their keep.

That, my friends, is how you make hay. Fertilize. Cut. Dry. Rake. Bale. Repeat.

It sounds like a lot of work because it is.  However, the alternative is buying hay from someone else. If you can afford to buy hay, that may be the route one could choose, but it can be very expensive, especially with over 100 sheep and four horses that rely solely on hay for food in the winter.

How do you prepare for the winter?

Loading Conversation